Arizona's racketeering or RICO laws generate millions of dollars each year for local police and prosecutors by allowing their offices to seize and keep money and property allegedly used in or generated by criminal activity. The RICO laws require prosecutors to meet only the most minuscule of legal burdens in court before being allowed to pocket the proceeds.
Impartiality is central to the constitutional guarantee of due process. Giving law enforcement agencies a direct financial stake in the outcome of forfeiture proceedings makes them anything but impartial. Justice is best served when law enforcement professionals pursue criminals, not property and profit.
Here in Maricopa County, weve seen instances where public attorneys have used RICO money on slick brochures that prominently featured their names. And the Maricopa County Sheriffs office recently engaged in a bitter fight with the Pima County Attorneys office over who would prosecute a forfeiture case involving $30 million seized from an allegedly illegal gambling operation. The dispute arose because the prosecuting agency would pocket the money.
Representative Kyrsten Sinema has introduced HB 2547 to prohibit forfeiture funds from being used for advertisements featuring the name or likeness of any public official. This is a good idea, but heres a better idea: Eliminate prosecutors profit incentives by requiring that forfeited funds be deposited in a general fund subject to the appropriations process rather than in slush funds controlled by the seizing agency.
Tim Keller is the executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter and the co-author of Policing and Prosecuting for Profit: Arizona's Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws Violate Basic Due Process Protections, a 2004 Goldwater Institute Policy Report.
Arizona Republic: Sheriff's Office fought for case
Arizona House of Representatives: HB 2547